Freedom is universal….And I recognize there’s a debate around the world about the kind of — whether that principle is real. I call it moral relativism, if people do not believe that certain people can be free. I mean, I just cannot subscribe to that. People — I know it upsets people when I ascribe that to my belief in an Almighty, and that I believe a gift from that Almighty is universal freedom. That’s what I believe. ~George W. Bush
Mr. Bush evidently doesn’t understand the objections of his critics if he thinks any of us are saying that there are people who are inherently incapable of political liberty. Without our cultural and political inheritance, our traditions, the institutions established by our ancestors and the cultivation of the habits and mentality necessary to make liberal self-government (or something approximating it) function, Anglo-Americans would be equally at a loss and would fumble and flail around just as blindly as anyone else. To the extent that we misunderstand or have forgotten our own history, we have already lost large parts of our constitutional tradition. But in our tradition, it took the better part of four centuries for a parliamentary institution to mature and stake a claim to sovereignty; it took another half a century for those claims to be resolved in Parliament’s favour; it took another century to cultivate the colonial spirit of self-government. Iraqi self-government might be genuinely self-sustaining by, oh, 2110, not 2010, but that assumes a great many things not in evidence. For someone who claims to take the long view and who understands that these things are time-consuming, Mr. Bush seems to have no grasp of the immense investment of time and indigenous effort necessary to make a go of such a political system. Someone who throws around the charge of “moral relativism” against those who think that it takes time to cultivate the habits of liberty doesn’t know what “moral relativism” or liberty means. Someone who understood liberty a bit better than Mr. Bush once wrote:
Freedom is an artefact of civilization that released man from the trammels of the small group, the momentary moods of which even the leader had to obey. Freedom was made possible by the gradual evolution of the discipline of civilization which is at the same time the discipline of freedom.
If Islamic civilisation ever acquires the necessary discipline, perhaps one day Muslim peoples will truly know freedom. (In case you were wondering, I won’t be holding my breath.) Until then, it is the essence of realism and common sense to remain extremely skeptical of the prospects of success for any such undertaking.
Finally, thank goodness that Bush’s God of Universal Freedom is a myth that he has imagined, as I can think of no more cruel lie to tell people than that God has given us “universal freedom”–but somehow billions of people do not experience what God has given us. I can think of nothing more likely to inspire despair and loss of faith than this deception that God somehow desires the political liberty of all men but has not seen fit to provide it, or the means to it, to most of humanity for almost all of human history. You might as well say that God has given man “universal material bread” or “universal worldly peace,” while tacitly ignoring hunger and war. Bush really does seem to channel the mind of Verkhovensky in all his fanaticism and mania (he did speak of lighting a fire in the minds of men, as Verkhovensky did to the town in Dostoevsky’s Demons)–one only wonders how long before he starts joking about making one of his comrades into a revolutionary Pope akin to Verkhovensky’s fantastical ideas about the role of Stavrogin in the new order.
God is Spirit. He gives men the gifts of the Spirit, which include the peace that passeth all understanding and God gives Himself, the Bread of Life, to us, and He grants to men the spiritual liberty from the passions and from sin and death–far greater liberations, surely, than the tawdry Rights of Man–but it is simply unhinged to say that God gives man “universal freedom.” Frankly, this verges on the demented.